Re-eih & Bechukotai: Two Kinds of Blessings

August 5, 2021 at 11:38 am | Posted in Bechukkotai, Re-eih | Leave a comment

by Melissa Carpenter, maggidah

Jordan River

Moses opens this week’s Torah portion, Re-eih (“See”), by giving a choice to the Israelites who are camped at the Jordan River, waiting to cross over into Canaan.

See, I am setting before you today a brakhah and a kelalah. (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:26)

brakhah (בְּרָכָה) = blessing.  (Plural: brakhot, בְּרָכוֹתIn the Torah humans are considered “blessed” by God when they have prosperity, good health, fertility, victory over enemies, and/or power over subordinates.)

kelalah (קִלָלָה) = curse.  (This word for “curse” implies that the curse diminishes, belittles, or demeans the recipient.)

What do the people need to do to get the brakhah instead of the kelalah?  Pay attention to God’s rules and refrain from worshiping other gods.

The brakhah: that you pay attention to the commands of God, your god, that I am commanding you today. And the kelalah: if you do not pay attention to the commands of  God, your god, and you turn away from the path that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.  (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:27-28)

Moses does not say what good things will happen if the Israelites choose the blessing, nor what bad things will happen if they choose the curse.  Instead he prescribes a ritual:

Mt. Gezerim left, Mt. Eyval right, part of Nablus today, photo by James C. Martin

And it will be when God, your God, brings you to the land that you are entering to possess, you must give the brakhah on Mount Gezirim and the kelalah on Mount Evyal.  (Deuteronomy 11:29)

He gives the location of the two hills,1 but he does not say what the people are to recite.2  Then he delivers a long list of laws about religious observance, beginning with a command to destroy the idols and shrines of the Canaanites.3 The implication is that if the Israelites obey these religious laws they will be blessed, and if they disobey they will be cursed.

Consequences of the Choice in Bechukotai

The Israelites are given a similar choice in Leviticus, in the Torah portion Bechukotai (“In my decrees”), when God declares:

If you walk in my decrees and you observe my commands and carry them out, then I will give you rains in their seasons, and the earth will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.  And threshing will overlap vintage for you, and vintage will overlap sowing. And you will eat your food until you are sated, and you will dwell in safety in your land.  (Leviticus/Vayikra 26:3-5)

The passage continues by listing more blessings that will ensue if the Israelites obey God including the absence of dangerous wild beasts and human enemies in the land, victory in battle abroad, fertility and population increase, and the presence of God’s dwelling-place.  Although God does not use the word brakhah, all of these benefits are standard blessings except for:

I will set my dwelling-place in your midst, and I will not vomit you out.  And I will walk around in your midst, and I will be your God, and you will be my people.  (Leviticus 26:11-12)

Tent of Meeting, Collectie Nederland

The dwelling-place of God is the Tent of Meeting in Exodus through Joshua, and the temple in Jerusalem from 1 Kings on.  But the promise to walk around among the Israelites implies God will constantly be present.

After the blessings, God lists curses.

But if you do not pay attention to me and you do not follow all these commands … I for my part will do this to you: I will appoint terror over you, tuberculosis, and fever, wearing out eyes and wearing away vitality, and you will sow seed for nothing; your enemies will eat it.  I will set my face against you and you will be beaten by your enemies, and those who hate you will rule over you … (Leviticus 26:14, 16-17)

Although God does not use one of the words for “curse” here, the usual curses in the Torah also focus on sickness, famine, and subjugation to enemies.

In the portion Bechukotai God says that if, after these disasters, the Israelites still disobey God, there will be a severe drought.  If the drought is not enough to make the people obedient, God will afflict them with wild beasts that kill children and livestock, starvation, subjugation, panic, and deportation to enemy nations.4

Both the blessings and the curses in Bechukotai are introduced by the word “if” (im, אִם).  If the Israelites obey God, then they will be collectively rewarded with prosperity, fertility, safety, and God’s sanctuary.  If they do not obey God, then they will be collectively punished with starvation, sickness, danger, and exile.

These blessings and curses apply to the Israelites as a whole; the word I translate above as “you” is consistently in the plural.  Individual exceptions are not addressed.  And, as usual in the Torah, no reference is made to any reward or punishment after death.  People experience blessings and curses only during their lives.

Consequences of the Choice in Re-eih

Moses may have similar blessings and curses in mind in this week’s portion, Re-eih.  But some commentators have noticed that in Re-eih the statement about the brakhah uses the word “asher” in place of the usual word “im” (if).

The brakhah: asher you pay attention to the commands of God, your god, that I am commanding you today.  And the kelalah: im you do not pay attention to the commands of  God, your God …  (Deuteronomy 11:27-28)

asher (אֲשֶׁר) = that.

The implication might be that paying attention to God’s rules is in itself a blessing.  If so, this is a new kind of blessing, absent from the choice between blessings and curses in Bechukotai.5

An 18th-century C.E. commentary called Or HaChayim explained: “Hearkening to G’d’s commandments is perceived as a pleasurable experience by itself.  It helps the soul to feel ‘alive’ …  Whenever someone who studies Torah gains an understanding of what the Torah has in mind he experiences a physical and spiritual sense of wellbeing.  He owes G’d a debt of gratitude for affording him such pleasure.  There is no need to add that such a person cannot demand a reward from G’d for having allowed him to experience such joy.”6

19th-century commentator S.R. Hirsch reached a similar conclusion, although he interpreted the blessing as that you obey God’s rules.  “The observance of God’s commandments is in itself part of the blessing. … The spiritual and moral act of faithfully observing the Torah constitutes in itself a blessed advancement of our whole being; hence, each time we carry out a mitzvah, we bring blessing upon ourselves.”7

Perhaps just as a kelalah is a diminishment, a brakhah is an enlargement.  Those who choose to pay attention to God may be enlarged materially, with blessings of prosperity, fertility, etc.; or spiritually, with the blessing of an expansive and joyful soul.

This points to another meaning of the presence of God’s dwelling-place in the list of blessings in Bechukotai.  Regardless of whether there is a temple or not, God will be present among the people who pay attention to God’s words and live by them.  This kind of presence is indeed an enlargement.

*

If you live in a community of people who make bad choices, you will inevitably suffer for their mistakes and misdeeds.  In a material sense, you will be cursed.  Nevertheless if you, personally, choose to do the right thing, you will receive the blessing of becoming a better and more joyful person.8

Thus virtue becomes its own reward.

(I posted an earlier version of this essay in 2012.)

  1. Deuteronomy 11:30, near the ancient town of Shekhem. See my post Ki Tavo: Cursing Yourself.
  2. The formula for the recital comes later, in Deuteronomy 27:11-28:48.
  3. Deuteronomy 12:1-31.
  4. Leviticus 26:18-33, followed by: And those of you remaining, I will bring despair into your heart in the lands of your enemies. And you will pursue the sound of leaves being blown away, and you will flee as if you were fleeing from the sword, and they will fall when there are none pursuing.  And you will become lost among the nations, and the land of your enemies will eat you up.”  (Leviticus 26:36-37)  (This description could be based on the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century B.C.E., with its mass deportations.)
  5. It is also absent from the Torah’s third and final list of blessings and curses, Deuteronomy 28:1-48.
  6. Rabbi Chayim ben Moshe ibn Attar, Or HaChayim, translated in sefaria.org.
  7. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Hirsch Chumash: Sefer Devarim, translated by Daniel Haberman, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 231 on 11:27.
  8. In some parts of the bible (which was, after all, written down by fallible humans), the God-character demands actions that are not ethical. Paying attention to the bible should include discerning which commands are divinely inspired ethical principles.

Eikev & Judges: Love or Kill the Stranger?

July 27, 2021 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Eikev, Judges, Shoftim, Va-etchannan | Leave a comment

Are foreigners neighbors or enemies?  Should you befriend them or kill them?

This week’s Torah portion, Eikev (“on the heels of”), appears to promote both points of view.

Love the stranger

And you must love the geir, for you were geirim in the land of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy/Devarim 10:19)

geir (גֵּר), plural geirim (גֵּרִים) = immigrant, resident alien.  (Not any “stranger”; only a foreigner who has settled down in another country.)

The command to be good to the immigrant appears many times in the Torah.1  In this week’s iteration, Moses warns his people not to act like the Egyptians, who mistreated the multiplying family of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) when they were resident aliens in Pharaoh’s kingdom.2  He anticipates that after the Israelites have conquered Canaan and settled down, there will be individual immigrants who should be treated with the same fairness and compassion as anyone else in the land.

Kill the stranger

But this ethical rule does not apply to the Canaanites already living in the land the Israelites are about to conquer.  In last week’s Torah portion, Va-etchanan, Moses says:

You must dedicate them to destruction.  You must not cut a treaty with them, and you must not show them mercy.  You must not give them your daughters, nor give their daughters to your sons … because they would turn your children away from [God], and they would serve other gods … Instead … you must tear down their altars and smash their standing stones and cut down their goddess posts and burn their images in fire.  (Deuteronomy 7:2-5)

In the portion Eikev, Moses repeats the call for genocide of the Canaanites.

And you must eat up all the peoples that God, your God, is giving to you.  You must not look at them with compassion.  And you must not serve their gods, because it would be a trap for you.  (Deuteronomy 7:16)

Why?

Why does the God-character tell the Israelites to be kind to new immigrants, but to exterminate the existing population of Canaan?

If the Israelites had succeeded in conquering all of Canaan and killing its whole population, the injunction in Eikev could be viewed as a post-genocide justification: “We had to wipe them out because God told us to”.  But the book of Judges, which opens with an account of territories that the Israelite tribes partially conquered, reports that the original Canaanites continued to live in their midst.3

Therefore the exhortation to exterminate all the Canaanites serves a different purpose: to emphasize that nothing is more important for the Israelites than sticking to their own religion.  This agenda appears in the passages above from both Va-etchanan and Eikev.

The God-character portrayed in the books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 1 Samuel explicitly approves of genocide when the perpetrators are Israelites, and the victims worship a different god and occupy land that God has designated for the Israelites.4 No exceptions are made for infants or atheists.

In the book of Numbers, the land designated for Israelites includes not only Canaan, but also the region on the east bank of the Jordan River.  God helps the Israelites conquer the kingdoms of Cheshbon and Bashan, where two and a half of the twelve tribes will live.

War Against the Midianites, detail, by Balthasar Bernards, ca. 1720-1728

While they are camping at Peor, preparing to cross the Jordan, the Israelites accept invitations from the Midianites there to worship the god of Peor (Baal-Peor).  The God-character is enraged with jealousy, and (after wiping out 24,000 Israelites with a plague), orders the surviving men of Israel to kill all the Midianites around Peor: men, women, and male children.5

In next week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, Moses says that when the Israelites go to war to conquer a town outside the lands God has given them, they must first invite the town to surrender peacefully.  If the town accepts this offer, all its residents can continue to live there, as long as they provide labor for Israelites projects.However,

In the towns of those peoples that God, your God, is giving to you as a permanent possession, you must not let a soul live.  … so that they will not teach you to do all the taboo things that they do for their gods … (Deuteronomy 20:16, 20:18)

Thus the real issue is whether foreigners will help or hamper the Israelites in serving their God.

The Torah promotes friendly assimilation of new immigrants because they can be required to observe some basic Israelite religious practices.  The Torah rules that geirim must refrain from eating leavened bread during the week of Passover,7 refrain from working on the sabbath or Yom Kippur,8 refrain from eating an animal’s blood,9 obey the Israelite sexual prohibitions,10 refrain from giving children to the god Molekh,11 refrain using God’s name in an insult or curse,12 follow the laws of purity after exposure to a human corpse,13 and listen to a reading of the Torah every seven years.14

Immigrants who obey all these rules are not likely to worship other gods openly, or entice Israelites to join them in worship.

But what will the Israelites do when they are the immigrants, a large population settling Canaan by force?  Since they do not wipe out the indigenous peoples, will they start worshiping the local gods the way they did in Peor?

The answer in the book of Judges is a resounding yes.

The Israelites did what was bad in the eyes of God, and they served the be-alim.  And they abandoned God, the God of their forefathers, the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt.  And they went after other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and they bowed down to them, and [thus] they offended God.  (Judges 2:11-12)

be-alim (בְּעָלִים) = plural of baal (בַּעַל) = owner; a male Canaanite god.

Canaanite religions seemed to be so enticing that they were hard to resist.15

Another solution

From an ethical point of view, sharing the land of Canaan with its indigenous inhabitants is far better than committing genocide.  Why don’t Moses and the God-character in the Torah find a more ethical way to keep the Israelites from worshiping other gods?

Persuading the Israelites that no other gods exist is not the answer.  Moses tried this earlier in the book of Deuteronomy, saying:

You yourselves have seen for the knowledge that God is the God; there is no other than he alone.  (Deuteronomy 4:35)

But the people are not psychologically ready for monotheism.  Threats do not work either.  The portion Eikev includes two of many statements in the Torah that God will kill the Israelites if they worship other gods:

And it will be if you actually forget God, your God, and you go after other gods and serve them and bow down to them, I call witness against you this day that you will truly perish.  (Deuteronomy 8:19)

Guard yourselves lest your heart deceives you and you desert and serve other gods and bow down to them.  Then God’s anger will heat up against you and shut the heavens, and there will be no rain and the earth will not give its produce, and you will quickly perish from upon the good land that God is giving to you.  (Deuteronomy 11:16-17)

Perhaps at this stage, the Israelites need dazzling visual displays to reinforce their commitment to their religion.  The Canaanites have glittering gold and silver idols.  The Israelites have a single invisible god who only occasionally manifests as a miraculous fire.

The book of Judges points out that the sight of miracles made all the difference.

And the people served God all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who came after Joshua, who had seen all the great deeds of God that [God] did for Israel.  (Judges 2:7)

Elijah and King Ahab see divine fire, Zurich Bible, 1531

If the Israelites cannot yet stick to their own God without miracles, an occasional miracle might help to keep the religion going until the people become able to adopt a more sophisticated idea of God.  An example is when Elijah when Elijah sets up two altars, one for God and one for Baal, and asks the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to make their choice.  God sends down fire to consume the offerings, and the Israelites respond by attacking the priests of Baal.16

A miracle in every generation might have kept the Israelites away from Canaanite religion.  At least it would be a better solution than genocide.

Even today many people cannot relate to an invisible, abstract god.  Some people still use icons and other shiny objects to support their religious resolve.  Others still need miracles, and gladly interpret apparent coincidences as the hand of God.  If these religious practices strengthen their commitment to ethical behavior, then they are well worth it.

But a god that sanctions murder is not worth worshiping.  Killing the infidel is a practice that has continued somewhere in the world to this day.  May it cease in our own time.

  1. See my blog post Mishpatim: The Immigrant, including the footnotes.
  2. Moses also makes this point in Exodus 23:9.
  3. Judges 1:21-33.
  4. Divine commands for genocide of seven Canaanite peoples include Exodus 23:28-33, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 7:16, 7:24, 20:16-18; and Joshua 8:2, 10:40. The God-character commands genocide of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3.
  5. See my posts on “How to Stop a Plague”, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  6. Deuteronomy 20:10-11.
  7. Exodus 12:19.
  8. Exodus 20:10, 23:12; Leviticus 16:29; Deuteronomy 5:14.
  9. Leviticus 17:10-13.
  10. Leviticus 18:26.
  11. Leviticus 20:3.
  12. Leviticus 24:16.
  13. Numbers 19:10.
  14. Deuteronomy 31:12.
  15. Even in the 6th century B.C.E. people were worshiping “the Queen of Heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18)
  16. 1 Kings 18:20-40.

 

Lamentations, Va-etchannan, & Vayeishev: The Pit

July 14, 2021 at 8:48 pm | Posted in Lamentations, Va-etchannan, Vayeishev | Leave a comment

Dig a deep hole in the ground and you have a pit, a bor in Hebrew.  In the bible you can use it as a dungeon, or line it with cement and use it as a cistern to store water. A bor is also part of the underworld where the souls of the dead go.

Roman Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez

This Sunday is Tisha B’Av, the annual Jewish day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple—both the first temple, razed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., and the second temple, razed by the Romans in 70 C.E.  On Tisha B’Av it is customary to read the book of Lamentations/Eykhah, a series of five poems which mourn the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian army.

The first poem opens with the word Eykhah (“How can it be?”)1 and expresses the desolation of the ruins of Jerusalem.  The second poem, which also begins Eykhah, calls the destruction “the day of God’s wrath” over the misdeeds of Jerusalem’s people.  The fourth and fifth poems combine the two themes, with emphasis on starvation and being at the mercy of the enemy.

The third poem, however, reads like one of the personal psalms in which the ancient poets feel as if they are near death, and plead with God to bring them back to life and take vengeance against their enemies.2  Only in verse 40 does the third poem of Lamentations switch from “I” to “we”, urging all the people of Jerusalem to plead with God for forgiveness and rescue.

     Let us check on our ways and cross-examine [ourselves], and turn back to God!  (Lamentations 3:40)3

The first person singular returns with:

     Streams of water go down from my eyes over the shattering of my people.  (Lamentations 3:48)

Shortly after that, the narrator, identifying with Jerusalem, claims that the Babylonians did not actually need the city.

     My enemies actually hunted me like a bird, for no reason.

     They silenced my life in the bor, and in their hand was a stone against me.

     The waters rose over my head.  I thought: “I am ended!”

     I called your name, God, from the bottom of the bor.

     May you hear my voice!  Do not shut your ear to my spirit, to my cry for help!  (Lamentations/Eykhah 3:52-56)

bor (בּוֹר) = a pit; a cistern, a dungeon, a synonym for Sheol.

Here the bor is not a physical cistern or dungeon, but a poetic image for Sheol, the underworld of the souls of the dead.  Bor is used at least 21 times in the Hebrew Bible to indicate either Sheol or the lowest region of Sheol, but this is the only such reference that includes water.  Souls never drown after they are dead in ancient Hebrew mythology.  Thus the narrator of this poem is not dead, but despairing of life.  The poet uses the images of both stone and water, comparing the bor of Sheol to a cistern filling up with water.

The narrator, like all the citizens of defeated Jerusalem, is trapped—unable to float to the surface and escape.

A full cistern

Next week Jews read from Va-etchanan (“And I implored”), the second Torah portion of the book of Deuteronomy/Devarim.  In this portion cisterns are listed as assets that the Israelites will enjoy once they conquer the land of Canaan:

… cities big and good that you did not build, and houses filled with everything good that you did not fill, excavated borot that you did not excavate, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.  And you will eat and you will be satisfied.  [Then] take heed, lest you forget God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.  (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

borot (בֺּרוֹת) = plural of bor.

How lovely to move into a land already dotted with cisterns that collect and store water for the dry season!  Moses reminds his people not to take the cisterns for granted, since they did not excavate them.  Canaanites dug them, and the Israelites will conquer Canaan only with God’s help.4

The books of Exodus through Joshua treat the conquest of Canaan as an unmitigated good, since it results in fertile land for the Israelites, not to mention pre-existing amenities such as cities, houses, and cisterns.  The bible does not consider the Canaanite point of view.

But I can imagine poets from the various conquered peoples of Canaan writing laments after the Israelites besiege and loot their cities, destroy their temples, and kill many of their people.  The conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua is the same story as the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar; only the names and dates change.

An empty cistern

Cisterns holding water are mentioned twelve times in the Hebrew Bible.  Dry cisterns and dry pits are mentioned at least 31 times.  They serve as hiding places,5 a warrior throws bodies of the slain into them,6 and large animals fall in.7  Psalm 7:16 refers to a man falling into a pit he dug himself, a fine image of being caught in your own trap.8

Since the walls of an empty cistern are covered with cement, they do not provide handholds for a human to climb out.  The only escape is for someone at the top to throw you a rope.

At least thirteen times the bible mentions a dry bor, it was  excavated to serve as a dungeon.  Five times in Genesis, in the portion Vayeishev (“And he settled”), the bor is an empty cistern that Joseph’s older brothers use as an ad-hoc prison.

They see Joseph coming up the road to check on them, and they know he will give a negative report to their father, as usual.

Joseph pulled up from the pit, by James J.J. Tissot

And they said, each man to his brother: “Hey!  Here comes the master of dreams!  And now let’s go murder him, and let’s throw him into one of the borot, and we can say a wicked beast ate him.  Then we’ll see what happens to his dreams!”    And Reuben said to them: “Don’t shed blood!  Throw him into this bor that is in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him!”—in order to rescue him from their hand and return him to his father.  And it happened when Joseph came up to his brothers.  They stripped his tunic off Joseph, the fancy tunic that he had on, and they took him and threw him into the bor.  And there was no water; the bor was empty. (Genesis 37:20-24)

It would take about two weeks for a healthy adolescent like Joseph to die of dehydration at the bottom of the pit, less if there were no shade.  Before Reuben can return with a rope to rescue him, Judah sells Joseph to a caravan.  The traders pull him up out of the bor and take him to Egypt as a slave.

*

A deep hole in the ground is beneficial when it becomes a cistern full of water, or the basement of a building.9  But when it is used as a dungeon, the captive will die unless given food and water.  A prisoner in a dungeon can hope for a reprieve or a rescue, but if the bor is Sheol you can only be saved if God heeds your prayer as you go down.  There is no life after death in that bor; at best the disembodied souls lie in eternal sleep.10

Today, when we are depressed we feel “down”, trapped in a mysterious place without life or meaning.  In English we call it “a pit of despair”.

May everyone who sinks into a pit find a way to cry out for help and be rescued, whether the rescuer is a fellow human being or the voice of God within.

  1. See my post Devarim, Isaiah, & Lamentations: Desperation.
  2. g. Psalms 28, 30 and 88, all of which mention bor as a synonym for Sheol.
  3. Since the poem is an acrostic, verse 40 must begin with the letter nun, נ. When the prefix nun is attached to verbs in the perfect tense, it indicates the second person plural.  However, the prefix nun can also be used to indicate the simple passive (nifal) verb stem, and there are many other words that begin with a nun, so switching to the second person plural for a word beginning with nun is a deliberate choice on the part of the poet.
  4. See my post Eikev, Va-etchannan, & Noach: Who Built It?
  5. 1 Samuel 13:6, 1 Chronicles 11:17-18, and Proverbs 28:17.
  6. Jeremiah 41:7-9 and 1 Chronicles 11:17-18.
  7. Exodus 21:33-34, 2 Samuel 23:20, and 1 Chronicles 11:22.
  8. Psalm 7:16.
  9. The word bor is not used for a basement in the bible; the substructure of a building is called a yesod (יְסוֹד) = foundation, base.
  10. Unless they are disturbed by a diviner such as the witch of Endor, who summons the ghost of Samuel to speak briefly with King Saul in 1 Samuel 28:7-20.

Balak, Pinchas & Mattot: They Made Us Do It

June 30, 2021 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Balak, Mattot, Pinchas | Leave a comment

(The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy present Moses as a complex character overall, yet at times he obeys God without thinking. In the conversation below I address this simplistic Moses character.) 

Moses: We killed them because they made us do the wrong thing.

M. Carpenter: They made the Israelite men do it? Aren’t they adults, responsible for their own actions?

Moses: But they tricked us.

Carpenter: Or maybe you let them trick you. Here’s what the Torah says:

Torah portion Balak:

And Israel was dwelling at Shittim, and the people began liznot the Moabite women.  And they invited the people to make slaughter-offerings to their god.  So the people ate and prostrated themselves to their god.  And Israel yoked itself to Baal-Peor, and God became inflamed against Israel.  (Numbers/Bemidbar 25:1-3)

liznot (לִזְנוֹת) = to have intercourse with a religious sex worker (when zonah, זֺמָה  = cult prostitute); to have illicit intercourse (when zonah = any woman who sells herself for sex); to be unfaithful.

Any of the three meanings of liznot might apply in the passage above.  The Israelite men might have served the god of Peor from the beginning, through its sex workers. Or they might have used Moabite prostitutes, who then invited them to religious feasts.  Or the word liznot might introduce the idea that they became unfaithful to God when they bowed down to another god.

Pinchas, Sacra Parallela, Byzantine 9th century

God’s rage was expressed as a plague, which killed 24,000 Israelites before Aaron’s grandson Pinchas stopped it with a single violent act.  One of the Israelite men brought one of the Moabite women right into God’s Tent of Meeting to have sex.  Pinchas speared both of them through their private parts in one blow.1

Torah portion Pinchas: Then God made Pinchas a priest on the spot.2  When the Torah gave the names of the speared offenders, it changed the Moabite woman into a Midianite woman, an example of incomplete redaction when two versions of a story have been melded.  From that point on, the female offenders are called Midianites.

Then God spoke to Moses, saying: “Attack the Midianites and strike them down! –because they attacked you through nikheleyhem when niklu you over the matter of Peor … (Numbers 25:17-18)

nikheleyhem (נִכְלֵיהֶם) = their deceit, their trickery, their cunning.

niklu (נִכְּלוּ) =they deceived, they tricked.

Moses:  So you see, God Himself said that the Moabites, er, Midianites, tricked us.

M. Carpenter: Well, the God-character you heard in the Torah said that. I think those Israelite men should have realized that having liaisons with women attached to the god of Peor would lead to invitations to feasts, during which it would only be polite to bow down to their god like everyone else. The men could have thought it through, but they didn’t—and they could not use the excuse that they were starving.  They already had sex and food in their own camp with Israelite women.

Moses: Anyway, those Peor worshipers will never trick us again.

M. Carpenter: True. Because the next Torah portion says:

Torah portion Mattot: After a while God reminded him:

Take revenge with the vengeance of the Israelites on the Midianites! Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” (Numbers 31:1)

So, knowing it might be his final deed before he died, Moses assembled an army.  The Israelites defeated the Midianites, burned down their towns, and killed every Midianite man.  When they returned with the booty, including the Midianite women and children, Moses ordered them to kill all the women who were not virgins.  He explained that it was Midianite women who caused the Israelites to choose Peor over God, which resulted in God’s plague.3

M. Carpenter: Exterminating the local population did eliminate that particular temptation. But it won’t stop the Israelites from straying after other Gods once they settle in Canaan, as I pointed out in an earlier post: Mattot, Va-etchannan, & Isaiah: How to Stop a Plague, Part 3.

Moses: But God wanted revenge.

M. Carpenter: In this story, the God-character wants revenge. But elsewhere in the Torah, the God-character wants justice. There’s a difference.  Let me quote something God said to you at Mount Sinai:

“A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth: as someone gives a physical injury to a human, thus it shall be given to him.  And for striking down a beast, he shall pay compensation, but for striking down a human, he shall be killed.”  (Leviticus/Vayikra 24:19-21)

Moses: So you think we should have seduced the Moabites into worshiping our God?

M. Carpenter: You could have tried. Of course, they might have had the fortitude to resist and stick to their own god. But trying to seduce them would have been more ethical than killing them.

Moses: I was afraid that if we didn’t obey God’s order to kill the Moabites, God would kill more Israelites. You know what a temper he has.

M. Carpenter: You must have noticed that God has more than one voice in the Torah. There’s the angry jealous God, the God of justice, and the God of mercy. Remember back in the book of Exodus when you talked the jealous God-character into giving up his plans for revenge against the Israelites, and extending mercy instead?3

Moses: I asked for mercy for the Israelites.  Mercy for the Moabites is different.

M. Carpenter: Is it?

  1. Numbers 25:6-9.
  2. Numbers 25:10-13.
  3. Numbers 31:16.
  4. Exodus 32:7-14.

 

Balak: Motivations

June 23, 2021 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Balak, Bereishit | Leave a comment

Why do King Balak and the prophet Bilam behave badly in this week’s Torah portion, Balak?

In the book I am writing on moral psychology in Genesis, I examine the text for emotional impulses and character flaws that result in immoral behavior.  Three of the character flaws I found in Genesis also explain the poor ethical choices of Balak and Bilam.

Balak

Balak, the king of Moab, is alarmed after the Israelites have conquered the Amorite city-state of Cheshbon on the northern border of his kingdom.  He sends dignitaries to Bilam, who lives by the Euphrates River, with the following message:

“And now please go curse these people for me!  Because they are more numerous than we are.  Maybe I will be able to nakeh them and drive them out from the land.  For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”  (Numbers/Bemidbar 22:6)

nakeh (נַכֶּה) = strike down, break, beat down.  (A form of the root verb nakah, נָכָּה = strike, hit, beat, destroy.)

Balak’s emotional reaction to finding a horde of strangers camped across his border is fear, naturally enough.  But when he tries to address his fear he makes two mistakes.  One is that he assumes the Israelites will attack Moab next.  The truth is that the Israelites are on their way to Canaan, and conquered Cheshbon because the king of Cheshbon refused to let them pass through his land.  They are not interested in attacking Moab, which lies to the south, before they continue their journey northward.  But it never occurs to Balak to see if he can find out why the Israelites attacked Cheshbon.

His other mistake is that he tries to hire Bilam to curse the Israelites, instead of to bless the Moabites.  King Balak could just as well ask Bilam to make Moab look invulnerable to the Israelites, or to make the Israelites seek peace.

But Balak only thinks in terms of war, in terms of kill or be killed.  He tries to arrange the mass destruction of the people camping across the Arnon River from Moab even though they have made no hostile move against him because he lacks imagination.

He is not the only one in the Torah with this character flaw.  In the book of Genesis, Noah fails to talk God into saving innocent animals and children from the flood because he cannot imagine talking back when God speaks to him.1  Jacob masquerades as his brother Esau and lies to Isaac, their father, because it does not occur to him that Isaac might intend to give two blessings, one to Esau and a different one to Jacob.2  Shimon and Levi lie to the men of Shekhem and then massacre them because nobody in their family thinks of a polite way to refuse an invitation by the ruler of Shekhem.3

An inability to imagine better alternatives leads many human beings to follow their worst impulses: callous resignation for Noah, greed for Jacob, and violence for Shimon and Levi.  The same lack of imagination makes Balak respond to his fear of strangers by trying to make it easier to kill them.

On the other hand, people who often exercise imagination can become unable to think outside the box when they are gripped by an overwhelming emotional reaction.   A psychological complex can overwhelm one’s more rational self; perhaps Balak, Shimon, and Levi had complexes that made them react to trouble by lashing out violently.  We cannot tell from the text of the Torah.

Bilam and the Moabites

When King Balak’s delegation arrives at Bilam’s house, God visits Bilam in a dream and tells him not to go to Moab, because the Israelites are blessed.  In the morning Bilam tells the Moabites that God will not let him go with them.

Then Balak sends back a more impressive group of dignitaries, and the promise of a rich reward.  Bilam already knows that God will not let him curse the Israelites, but this time he prevaricates:

“If Balak gave me what fills his house, [all the] silver and gold, I would not be able to cross the word of God, my God, to do [anything] small or large.  But now please stay here overnight again, and I will find out again what God will speak to me.”  (Numbers 22:18-19)

That night God tells the prophet he may go to Moab, but when he arrives he must do whatever God tells him to do.  Bilam accompanies the Moabites without telling them God’s caveat, giving them the false impression that he will curse the Israelites and earn his pay.

Why does Bilam string along the Moabites?  The clue in the text is that he has named a high price for his services: all the silver and gold in Balak’s house.  His motivation for going to Moab, and his character flaw, is greed.

Greed was also Abraham’s motivation in Genesis when he passed off his wife Sarah as his sister, hoping to cheat the king of Gerar out of a high bride-price.4  If the Torah told us about what Bilam and Abraham learned from their parents or from earlier experiences, we could guess why they are greedy enough to brush aside ethical considerations.  But the Torah only presents the two men as they are.

Bilam and the donkey

Next God tests Bilam by placing a divine messenger in his path, an angel that only Bilam’s donkey can see.  Twice the donkey swerves twice to avoid the angel.  The third time, when the way is too narrow, she lies down underneath Bilam and refuses to move.  All three times Bilam angrily beats his donkey.

Then God opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Bilam: “What have I done to you that hikitani these three times?”  And Bilam said to the donkey: “Because you made a fool of me!  If only there were a sword in my hand so that now I could kill you!” (Numbers 22:28-29)

hikitani (הִכִּיתַנִי) = you struck me, you hit me, you beat me.  (Another form of the root verb nakah.)

Why does Bilam beat his donkey?  It would have been more ethical for him to investigate her unusual behavior (not to mention her sudden gift of speech).  But Bilam is overwhelmed by his angry impulse because of another character flaw: pride.  King Balak’s men were probably watching the first two times the donkey swerved.  He believed his donkey’s behavior made him look like a fool who could not control his own mount.

In the book of Genesis, Cain also becomes infuriated when his pride is hurt.  He is the first person to make an offering to God.  After he has laid out the fruits of the soil he has labored over, his brother Abel offers an animal from his flock.  God accepts Abel’s offering but ignores Cain’s.  Cain is humiliated, and God cautions him:

“Why did you become hot-with-anger,

and why did your face fall?

“Isn’t it true that if you do good,

[there is] uplifting?

“And if you do not do good,

wickedness is crouching like a beast at the door,

and its craving is for you.

“But you, you can rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Cain loses his temper and kills Abel.  He is unable to rule over his pride and stop himself from succumbing to wickedness.

When Bilam is infuriated by pride, God does not caution him directly, but instead lets the donkey speak.

Then God opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Bilam: “Aren’t I your donkey, that you have ridden on from long ago until this day?  Am I really accustomed to doing this to you?”  And he said: “No.”  (Numbers 22:30)

Bilam and His Ass, by Rembrandt, 1626

At least Bilam is honest at this point, recognizing that his donkey does not deserve to be beaten.  Once he has answered “No”, God lets him see the divine messenger, who scolds him for beating the donkey and adds: “Hey, I went out as a accuser.” (Numbers 22:32)

Bilam concludes that God sent the angel to oppose his journey to Moab in the hope of being able to curse the Israelites.

And Bilam said to God’s messenger: “I did wrong because I did not know that you were stationed to meet me on the way.  And now, if it is wrong in your eyes I will turn back.”  (Genesis 22:34)

Turning around at this point would make Bilam look even more foolish to the Moabite dignitaries, but now Bilam is willing to swallow his pride.  The divine messenger tells him to go to Moab anyway, but say nothing except what God tells him.  He does, and finds himself blessing (giving good prophecies about) the Israelites three times.  King Balak pays Bilam nothing, and the reformed prophet heads home.5

In this week’s Torah portion, Bilam makes two ethical errors: he deceives someone because of greed, like Abraham, and he strikes an innocent party because of pride, like Cain.  But his bad deeds are not as bad as theirs.  Bilam only deceives the king of Moab, whereas Abraham both deceives the king of Gerar and puts Sarah in a dangerous and compromising position.  Bilam only beats his donkey, whereas Cain murders his brother.  And Bilam admits he was wrong and repents.

*

We all have negative emotional impulses sometimes.  Whether these impulses lead to unethical behavior often depends on our individual character flaws, which may be the result of psychological complexes.  But early in the book of Genesis, God promises Cain that even though it is difficult, we can learn what our complexes are and rise above them.

May we exercise more imagination than Balak, so we can think of better alternatives than lashing out at others.  And if we become overwhelmed by greed or pride, may we recognize it, temper it, and admit when we did wrong, like Bilam.

  1. Abraham persuades God to refrain from burning up Sodom if there are even ten innocent people in the city. Moses persuades God to give the Israelites a second chance after they worship the Golden Calf. But Noach is silent. After God has spoken to him, all the Torah says is: And Noach did everything that God commanded him; thus he did. (Genesis 6:22)
  2. Genesis 27:1-28:4.
  3. Genesis 34:8-29.
  4. Genesis 20:1-18.
  5. In a later Torah portion, Mattot, Moses orders a war of vengeance against the Midianites of Moab, who had invited the Israelites to make offerings to their own god. The Israelites kill every Midianite male including the five kings of Midian, “and Bilam son of Beor they killed by the sword” (Numbers 31:8).  The Torah does not say why Bilam was there, but Moses says that the Midianite females seduced the Israelite men “according to the word of Bilam” (Numbers 31:16).

Chukat & Vayishlach: Israel vs. Edom

June 17, 2021 at 11:01 pm | Posted in Chukkat, Vayishlach | Leave a comment

The Israelites are getting ready to enter Canaan again.

The first time, they marched up to Canaan’s southern border and then refused to cross.1  God decreed they must spend forty years in the wilderness, and then their children could try again.  This time, in the Torah portion Chukat (“decree of”), the new generation of Israelites plans to travel through Edom and north along the east side of the Dead Sea, then enter Canaan by crossing the Jordan River near Jericho.

And Moses sent messengers from Kadeish to the king of Edom, [who said]: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that found us, that our ancestors went down to Egypt and we lived in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians were bad to us and to our ancestors.”  (Numbers/Bemidbar 20:14-15)

Edom (אֱדוֹם) = a country also called Sei-ir, southeast of the Dead Sea.  The name comes from the country’s founder in Genesis/Bereishit: Esau, who is also called Edom, i.e. Red.2  (Edom comes from the same root as adam, אָדָם = humankind, adamah, אֲדָמָה = earth, and adom, אָדֺם = red-brown.)

Moses introduces the Israelites as the “brother” of the Edomites to remind the king of Edom that in the old Genesis story, Esau (a.k.a. Edom) and Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) are brothers.  The descendants of brothers should be at peace.

Yet Esau and Jacob, twins and rivals for the rights of the firstborn, struggle from birth to middle age.  And the countries of Edom and Israel never do become allies.3

Nevertheless, Moses calls Edom Israel’s brother, and reminds the king that God rescued the Israelites and led them out of Egypt.  Then he asks for a favor.

“… and hey, we are in Kadeish, a town on the edge of your territory.  Please let us cross your land!  We will not cross through field or vineyard, and we will not drink well water.  We will go on the king’s road.  We will not spread out to the right or left until we have crossed your territory.”  (Numbers 20:16-17)

The Israelites are asking only for safe passage from the southern border of Edom to its northern border.  They promise that neither they nor their herds and flocks will eat, drink, or damage anything in the land.

But Edom said to him: “You may not cross through me, or else I will go out with the sword to move against you.”  (Numbers 20:18)

Here the king of Edom is called by the name of his country, and identifies with the land he rules.  Moses responds as if he is synonymous with the Israelites.

And the Children of Israel said to him: “We will go up on the highway, and if we drink your water, I or my livestock, then I will give [you] its price.  [My request] is hardly anything!  Let me cross on foot.”  But he said: “You may not cross!”  And Edom went out to meet him with a heavy troop and with a strong hand.  Thus Edom refused to allow (Israel) to cross through his territory, and Israel swung away from him.  (Numbers 20:19-21)

In this story, the king of Edom does not trust the leader of Israel.  So the people of Israel make a long detour around Edom through the wilderness, instead of taking the highway north.4

*

In the book of Genesis, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) does not trust his brother Esau (a.k.a. Edom) when he is traveling from Charan to their father’s house.  So he makes a long detour through northern Canaan, instead of taking the highway south through Edom.

Twenty years before, Jacob fled to his uncle’s house in Charan because Esau was threatening to kill him as soon as their father, Isaac, had died.5  Now Jacob has a large family, scores of slaves, and a tremendous wealth of livestock.  The last he knew, his parents were living at an oasis in the Negev Desert to the south, either in Beir-sheva or Beir-lachai-roi.6  The best route for such a large party would be the highway through Edom.

And Jacob sent messengers ahead of himself to Esau, his brother, to the land of Seir, the region of Edom.  (Genesis 32:4)

The wording of this sentence at the beginning of the Torah portion Vayishlach (“and he sent”) implies that Jacob is hoping to follow those messengers to Esau’s home, taking advantage of the highway.  Yet he camps on the Yabok River at Machanayim, one day’s journey west of that highway, and sends his messengers to Esau from there.  He is already nervous about a reunion with the brother who once threatened to kill him.

His messengers return with the news that Esau is coming north with 400 men to meet him.  Alarmed, Jacob sends a series of gifts of livestock down the highway toward Esau.  When Esau reaches Jacob’s camp, Jacob bows down to the ground seven times as he walks toward his brother. Esau embraces him, and Jacob persuades his brother to keep the gifts.  Then Esau says:

“Break camp, and let’s go!  I will go alongside you.”  But [Jacob] said to him: “My lord knows that the children are tender and the flocks and herds, suckling, are upon me, and driving them hard [for even] one day will kill all the flocks.  Please, let my lord pass in front of me, his servant.  And I, I will move along slowly at the pace of the animals and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.”  (Genesis 33:12-14)

Esau then offers to leave some of his men behind as an escort, but Jacob refuses.  He has realized that he still does not trust Esau enough to risk entering his country.  As soon as Esau and his men have left, Jacob heads in the opposite direction, northwest to Sukkot, where he stays so long that he builds a house for his family and sheds for his animals.7  His next stop is Shekhem, farther northwest.  Jacob is willing to wait a few more years to see his ancient father, Isaac, again.

Eventually he journeys south through Canaan, where he discovers that his father has moved to Mamrei near the burial site his grandfather Abraham bought in Canaan.8  Jacob never does enter the land of Edom.

*

Should Jacob/Israel have trusted his brother Esau/Edom in Genesis?  Should the Edomites have trusted their brothers the Israelites in Numbers?  In both cases, trust would have enabled the people of Israel to take a faster route on a good road.

But if Esau’s change of heart had proven temporary, he could have wiped out Jacob and all his household while they were in Edom.  And if the Israelites had rebelled against Moses again, this time by straying from the highway, there would have been war inside Edom.  Humans are fickle.

Thanks to the wariness of Jacob in Genesis and of the king of Edom in Numbers, there is no bloodshed in either story.  Perhaps a long detour is a small price to pay for peace.

  1. See my blog post Shelach-Lekha: Courage and Kindness.
  2. Genesis 25:25, 25:30.
  3. Israel’s first king, Saul, defeats the Edomites in battle (1 Samuel 14:47). Its second king, David, defeats them again and makes the kingdom of Edom a vassal of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13-14).  In the 9th century B.C.E. the Edomites rebel against King Yoram of Judah and set up their own king, who is no longer subject to the king of Israel (2 Kings 8:20).  King Amatziyahu of Judah makes war against Edom in 838 B.C.E. and captures one of its cities, Sela, but the rest of Edom remains independent.
  4. A highway in the Ancient Near East was a wide road of packed earth that could be used by caravans and troops.
  5. Genesis 27:41-45.
  6. Beir-lachai-roi in Genesis 25:11, Beir-sheva in Genesis 28:10.
  7. Genesis 33:17.
  8. Genesis 34:27.

Haftarat Korach: 1 Samuel—Ultimate Power

June 9, 2021 at 11:52 am | Posted in Korach, Samuel 1 | Leave a comment

The true king of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible is the character of God, portrayed as an anthropomorphic being who delivers orders and decrees, metes out rewards and punishments, and determines the winning side in battles.  God communicates through “his” prophets.  But not everyone is happy with this arrangement.

Korach

Man with Crossed Arms, by Paul Cezanne

When the prophet Moses summons two rebellious leaders from the tribe of Reuben in this week’s Torah portion, Korach, they refuse to come.

Moses sent and called for Datan and for Abiram, sons of Eliav, and they said: “We will not come up!  Is it a small thing that you brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to make us die in the wilderness?  That tistareir over us, actually histareir?”  (Numbers/Bemidbar 16:12-13)

tistareir (תִשְׂתָּרֵר) = you play king, you lord it over, you make yourself a ruler.  (A form of the verb שׂרר = rule, direct.)

histareir (הִשְׂתָּרֵר) = playing king, usurping authority.  (The same verb as tistareir.)

Datan and Aviram express three grievances against Moses.  First, Moses has said repeatedly that God will give the Israelites the land of Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey”.1  But now they are stuck in the desert for forty years.  By comparison, Egypt was the land of milk and honey.

Second, they blame Moses for making the Israelites die in the wilderness.  In last week’s portion, Shelach-Lekha, God decreed that the Israelites must stay in the wilderness for 40 years, during which all the adults except the two scouts who urged the people to enter Canaan would die.2  But this decree was not Moses’ fault.  The Israelites refused to cross the border into Canaan, and God threatened to kill the whole community until Moses talked God into pardoning them and commuting their sentence.  All Moses did was buy them more time to live, and the promise that their children would conquer Canaan.

Third, the Reubenite leaders complain that Moses is hogging all the power and acting like a king, a complaint also lodged by Korach, the leader of 250 rebellious Levites.3  God responds by threatening to annihilate everyone except Moses and Aaron.  But Moses talks God into annihilating only the three rebels and their families.4

Moses tells the crowd to stand back from the tents of the rebels, and says:

The Death of Korach, Datan, and Abiram, by Gustave Dore

“By this you will know that God sent me to do all these things, that they are not from my heart: if these die like all humankind and the fate of all humankind is decreed for them, God did not send me.  But if God creates a new creation and the earth opens up its mouth and gulps them down, and all that is theirs, and they go alive down to Sheol, then you will know that these men scorned God.”  (Numbers 16:28-30)

The earth does open and swallow the three families.  This miracle proves that Moses tells them the law simply because God chooses him to do it.  God is the real king, and Moses is God’s spokesman.

Haftarat Korach

When Datan, Aviram, and Korach complain that Moses has too much power, he protests that he has not used his position for any personal gain.

“I have not taken a single donkey from them, and I have not wronged a single one of them.”  (Numbers 16:15)

The haftarah reading that accompanies Korach is 1 Samuel 11:14-12:22.  Probably the rabbis chose this passage because the prophet and judge Samuel also declares that he has not used his position for personal gain:

“Here I am!  Testify against me … Whose ox have I taken, and whose donkey have I taken?  And whom have I coerced?  Whom have I crushed?  And from the hand of whom have I taken a bribe and looked the other way?”  (1 Samuel 12:3)

Nobody, the Israelites reply.

It is a moment of transition.  Samuel has served his whole life as a circuit judge for the Israelites, but now, at the people’s request, he has just inaugurated Saul as their first king.  A king in the Ancient Near East was in charge of law, justice, and foreign affairs.  Although the Israelites have no complaints against Samuel as a judge, they want a king to lead them in war and foreign policy.

Samuel reminds them:

“And you saw that Nachash, king of the Ammonites, was coming against you, and you said to me: ‘No, because a king should rule over us!’  Yet God, your God, is your king.”  (1 Samuel 12:12)

In the book of Numbers, the rebel leaders do not want a king.  They complain that Moses is acting like their king, so Moses demonstrates that God is the king with the ultimate power, and he is only God’s emissary.  In the first book of Samuel, the Israelites are afraid that it is not enough to have the prophet Samuel as their judge, and God as their only king.  They want a human king.

Samuel says that it is their own fault that the kings of other countries make war on them, because they keep forgetting God and worshiping the Canaanite male and female gods (balim and ashtarot).5  So God lets their enemies attack them.  They beg God to rescue them, and God obliges by sending an ad-hoc general.6

Like Moses in the Torah portion Korach, Samuel demonstrates the truth of his words by asking God for a miracle, and God obliges—in Samuel’s case, by sending thunder and rain at the time of the wheat harvest, when the weather is always dry.7

Then the frightened Israelites say they were wrong to ask for a human king, and beg Samuel to intercede for them.  But Samuel assures them that as long as they (and their king) serve God instead of those worthless Canaanite gods, God will never abandon them.8

*

The Israelites do not trust God to be their king in either the time of Moses or the time of Samuel.  The difference is that in the time of Moses they do not want a king at all.  As long as they are stuck in the wilderness, they are isolated from other people and do not need anyone to deal with foreign powers.

In the time of Samuel, the Israelites inhabit part of Canaan, a land that is indeed flowing with milk and honey, not to mention wheat.  It is a fertile country worth conquering, and the neighboring kings are tempted to attack.  The Israelites do not trust God to send a war leader every time they need one, so they ask for their own human king.

Trusting God is hard for the Israelites, even though the stakes are high.  The bible asserts that if the people follow all of God’s laws (especially the one about not serving other gods), God will reward them with prosperity, their own land, and victory in battle.  If not, God will punish them with a plague or a military defeat.

But it is a rough justice.  The Israelites receive these rewards and punishments collectively, the innocent with the guilty.  And thanks to God’s hair-trigger temper, the punishments sometimes happen quickly.  In the portion Korach alone, God threatens to wipe out all the Israelites twice.9  The second time, God’s instant plague kills 14,700 people before Moses and Aaron stop it.  Only after that does God think of a non-lethal demonstration that convinces the surviving Israelites to accept Moses and Aaron as their divinely chosen leaders.10

What would it be like to have an invisible but easily inflamed king, one whom only Moses could mollify?  I suspect that I, too, would rather take my chances with no king at all in the wilderness, or with a human king in a fertile land.  If the human king turned out to be irrational, like King Saul, at least he would not live forever.

But the God-character in the Torah is eternal as well as irrational, often flying into a fury without thinking about the consequences.  No wonder the Israelites rebel against God.

  1. Moses used this expression to describe Canaan in Exodus 3:8, 3:17, 13:5, and 33:3; Leviticus 20:24; and Numbers 13:27 and 14:8. See my post: Ki Tavo: Milk and Honey.
  2. Numbers 14:11-24.
  3. Numbers 16:1-3.
  4. Numbers 16:20-27.  After that God’s fire burns up the 250 Levite rebels, and God sends a plague that kills thousands of Israelites who complained about it.
  5. 1 Samuel 12:9-10.
  6. In 1 Samuel 12:1, Samuel cites four ad-hoc generals sent by God: Yeruba-al (a.k.a. Gideon, Judges 6:11-17 and 7:1), Bedan (a.k.a. Samson according to the Talmud, Judges 13:24-16:31), Yiftach (Judges 11:1-33), and himself (though he never leads an army in the Torah).
  7. 1 Samuel 12:16-18.
  8. 1 Samuel 12:20-22.
  9. Numbers 16:21, 17:9.
  10. Numbers 17:13-26. God orders the head of each tribe to place his staff in front of the ark inside the Tent of Meeting.  In the morning, Aaron’s staff has sprouted leaves, flowers, and almonds.  The people are terrified, but at least they stop rebelling—until after Miriam dies and the water runs out in Numbers 20:2.

Shelach-Lekha: Paran vs. Chevron

June 2, 2021 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Joshua, Shelach-Lekha, Vayeira | Leave a comment

All the Israelites in the Torah are descended from one man, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel).  Jacob emigrates from Canaan to Egypt in the book of Genesis, but when he dies his sons bury him back in the family plot, and a memory of allegiance to Canaan is passed down through the generations for four hundred years.

When God liberates the “Children of Israel” from slavery in Egypt in the book of Exodus/Shemot, God promises to “give” them the land of Canaan.  They travel as far as Mount Sinai in Exodus, then continue north toward Canaan in the book of Numbers/Bemidbar.

Route of Scouts

This week’s Torah portion in Numbers, Shelach-Lekha (“Send for yourself”), opens when the Israelites and their fellow-travelers have crossed the Wilderness of Paran and camped at its northern edge, facing a range of hills on the southern border of Canaan.  The people are understandably nervous about marching in to conquer the inhabitants of Canaan.  So God calls for a scouting party.

Paran

Then God spoke to Moses, saying: “Send men for yourself, and they shall reconnoiter the land of Canaan ,which I am giving to the Israelites. You shall send one man from each tribe of his fathers, and every one a chieftain among them.”  And Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the word of God, all of them heads of the Israelites.  (Numbers/Bemidbar 13:1-2)

Paran (פָּארָן) = a particular mountain in the northeastern Sinai Peninsula; an uninhabited area including that mountain.1

In the book of Numbers, Paran is a wilderness, a large desert with no settlements.  The Israelites cross it safely without encountering any other people.

In the book of Genesis, Paran is where Ishmael lives after his father, Abraham, has exiled him from the family camp at Beersheva.2

And God was with the young man, and he grew big, and he lived in the wilderness and he became a bowman.  And he lived in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.  (Genesis 21:20-21)

Meanwhile Ishmael’s half-brother, Isaac, grows up in Abraham’s camp.  During his life he moves to three other locations, but he never leaves the region of Canaan.

At least one modern scholar has argued that Paran was inserted in the story of Ishmael by a redactor of Genesis in the 6th to 5th century B.C.E., a period when nomadic Arab warriors controlled commerce in the desert between Judah and Egypt.3

But the contrast Genesis sets up between the outsider Ishmael living in the Wilderness of Paran and the insider Isaac living in the civilized land of Canaan also informs the story of the scouting party in this week’s Torah portion.  The use of the place-name Paran reminds us that the Israelites are still outside their promised land, still nomads with no permanent home.

Chevron

Following God’s suggestion, Moses sends twelve men to scout out the land of Canaan, one for each tribe of Israelites.4

And they went up into the Negev and they came to Chevron, and there were … the Anakites.  (Numbers 13:22)

Chevron (חֶבְרוֹן) = the site of the modern West Bank city of Hebron.

When they return to the Israelite camp forty days later, ten of the twelve scouts report that Canaan is impossible to conquer, with its fortified cities and imposing warriors.

“All the people that we saw in it are men of unusual size.  And there we saw the Nefilim, descendants of Anak from the Nefilim!5  And we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we must have been in their eyes!”  (Numbers 13:32-33)

The other two scouts, Caleb and Joshua, declare that the Israelites can conquer Canaan because God will be on their side.  But the people despair and decide not to cross the border.  God does not give them another chance at the conquest of Canaan until they have been in the wilderness for forty years.  Then Moses’ successor, Joshua, leads the people across the Jordan River into northeastern Canaan.  Year by year, Joshua conquers the lands of petty kings and drives Anakites out of the hill-country6.  Caleb offers to conquer Chevron and dispossess the Anakites there.

Therefore Chevron became Caleb’s … because he remained loyal to God, the God of Israel.  And the name of Chevron was previously Kiryat Arba; the man was big among the Anakites … (Joshua 14:14-15)

Kiryat (קִרְיַת) = town of.

Arba (אָרְבַּע) = four.  (But Joshua 14:15 implies that Arba was also the name of a large or important Anakite.)

The book of Genesis also identifies Chevron with an earlier town called Kiryat Arba, but in Genesis the residents of the area are ordinary Hittites, not Anakites.  Adjacent to this town is the grove of Mamrei, where Abraham and Sarah are camping when three “men” who turn out to be angels visit and announce that Sarah will have a son at age 90.7  Abraham moves his household to Gerar and then Beersheba, but at some point Sarah returns to Mamrei without him.

And Sarah died at Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan …  (Genesis 23:2)

That is where Abraham buys the field containing the cave of Makhpeilah as a burial site.  Eventually he is buried in the cave next to his wife Sarah.  So is their son, Isaac, who moves there from Beersheba after he is old and blind.

And Jacob came to Isaac, his father, at Mamrei, Kiryat the Arba, which is Chevron; Abraham and Isaac had sojourned there.  (Genesis 35:28)

Isaac and his wife Rebecca are buried in the cave, Jacob buries his first wife, Leah, there, and in the last Torah portion of Genesis, Jacob’s twelve sons carry their father’s embalmed body back to Makhpeilah and bury him there.8

The graves of six key ancestors of the Israelites are in a cave near Chevron in Canaan.  This should make the city a magnet that draws the people home to where their forebears lived and died.  But in this week’s Torah portion in Numbers, the Israelites are overwhelmed by the fear of giants living there.

The use of the place-name Chevron emphasizes that the land the Israelites are refusing to enter is their own ancestral homeland, not just the land God promised to give them.  By turning away from Canaan, they are choosing to be permanent outsiders.

*

After murmuring about returning to Egypt, the Israelites choose to settle for several decades at the oasis of Kadesh-Barnea on the northern edge of the Wilderness of Paran.  In the Torah they make that choice because they do not trust God to grant them victory in the conquest of Canaan, not because they have any sympathy for the Canaanite tribes minding their own business in their own land.

But what if the land you think of as home is also the home of people who have been living there for hundreds of years?  Jews faced this question in 1948 when the present nation of Israel was founded.  The question still has not been answered.

  1. Mount Paran is cited as a place where God appears in Deuteronomy 33:2 and Habakkuk 3: 3. In an Islamic tradition, Paran (or Faran) is the desert extending down the east side of the Red Sea, and includes Mecca.
  2. Ishmael is Abraham’s son with an Egyptian slave named Hagar. After Abraham’s wife, Sarah, finally has her own son, Isaac, she insists that Abraham must drive out Hagar and Ishmael, so that Isaac will be the sole heir.  See my post Shavuot, Vayeira, & Ruth: Whatever You Say.
  3. Yairah Amit, “Ishmael, King of the Arabs”, https://www.thetorah.com/article/ishmael-king-of-the-arabs
  4. The scouts and their tribes are listed in Numbers 13:4-15. In this list the twelve tribes bear the names of ten of the twelve sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) in the book of Genesis.  Levi is omitted, since Moses has designated that tribe for religious work.  And instead of a single tribe named after Jacob’s son Joseph, we get tribes named after Joseph’s two sons, Menasheh and Efrayim.  They become legitimate founders of tribes in Genesis 48:5-22, when Jacob adopts them.
  5. The Nefilim are demi-gods mentioned in Genesis 6:4.
  6. Joshua 11:21. Also see Judges 1:19-20;
  7. Genesis 18:1-15.
  8. Genesis 35:27-29, 49:29-32, and 50:13.

Beha-alotkha: Miriam Looks Back

May 24, 2021 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Beha-alotkha | Leave a comment

(I am writing a Torah monologue from the viewpoint of Reuben for my book on Genesis.  As Jacob’s firstborn son, he keeps trying to do the right thing and manage his eleven brothers, but he keeps getting it wrong.

So for this week’s Torah portion in the book of Numbers, Beha-alotkha, I am sharing a Torah monologue I wrote back in 2008 from the viewpoint Miriam as she tries to figure out what she did wrong.)

Miriam Looks Back (Beha-alotekha)

My God, my God, why did you do this to me?  One moment I’m Miriam the Prophetess—old, healthy, strong, respected, looked up to.  The next moment—I’m an abomination, afflicted with tzara’at, shedding scales like drifts of sand.  Unclean, unclean! —shamed and shunned, seven days outside the camp.  And I’ve only been here for one day.  I’ve got six more days to get through.

Why did you do this to me, God?  The itching is unbearable!  No, I take that back.  The itching is a temporary inconvenience, but it’s all part of God’s plan, and I accept it humbly.

Rrrr!  Look at me now!  Scaly as a snake, white as—salt.  Reminds me of Lot’s wife, when she looked back at Sodom burning, and she turned into a pillar of salt.

Because she looked back—

But I never look back.  I always look forward, because I have faith in you, God.  Whenever the men whine about the cucumbers, melons,  leeks, onions, and garlic they used to eat in Egypt, what do I do?  I invent another recipe for manna.

Women Dancing, by J.J.J. Tissot

And when we left Egypt, grabbing whatever we could, I packed my timbrel.  Because I knew we’d have a reason to celebrate.  Even when the Pharaoh’s chariots came after us, I knew sooner or later we’d be singing and dancing and praising you, God.

I bet you didn’t expect an old lady to dance like that, did you?

Hey, I was forward-looking even when I was young, before Moshe was born.  Remember when Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to drown every Hebrew baby boy?  How my father, Amram, told the other Hebrew men to separate from their wives?  He said, it’s better not to make a baby at all, than to see him drowned in the Nile.

But I said, what about the girl babies?  I said, I had a vision about a boy who escaped.  I said, someday God’s gonna hear our groaning and rescue us.  I said, in the meantime, let’s grab as much life as we can, even under the shadow of death.  I said, I’m going ahead with my wedding, and you should tell all the married men to go back to their wives’ beds, and bring some light into the night!

And my father did just what I said.  Turned out well, didn’t it?

But now, when I try to give my little brother Moshe some advice, hhhh!  God strikes me with tzara’at, and I’m shedding scales all over the place, and everyone turns away from me because I’m unclean, and here I am stuck outside the camp, waiting out my sentence, seven days of shunning, and why did you do this to me, God?

But I’m not complaining.  I have a good attitude.  I know this is all for the best.  Somehow.

*

One, two, three …  Day four.  I’m halfway through my seven days outside the camp.  Halfway through this long, long week.  But I’m not complaining!

Though I still don’t know why I’m being punished for giving my brother some advice.  Listen, I know Moshe is way above my level.  I mean, the man has to wear a veil over his face!  Because he’s been exposed to so much of Your divine light, that his own face glows.  Me, I’ve just got a regular old woman’s face.  Or I used to, before You crusted it over with these white scales.

But just because You turned my little brother into the prophet of all prophets, am I supposed to treat him like a king?  Like a god?  Is that why You punished me for criticizing him on account of the Cushite woman he married?

All I did was point out that just because he talks with God all the time, it doesn’t mean he can’t go to bed with his wife once in a while.  The poor thing is shriveling up from lack of affection.  My God, you give us life, you give us desire, you give us joy like fire when two people come together.  Is it right to reject Your gifts?  Is it right for Moshe to turn away from his wife?  Isn’t that turning away from life?

So I told Moshe he should go back to her bed, just like my father and the other men of Israel went back to their wives in Egypt.  But I couldn’t tell if I was getting through to him; it’s hard to read his expression, through that veil.  And Aharon the Eloquent just stood there like a dummy.  So I kept talking.  I told Moshe, look at me and Aharon, we’re prophets, too.  But Aharon still gives Elisheva a kiss whenever he steps into their tent.  And me, I was good to my own man, right up to the day he died.

Was it so awful to say that we’re prophets, too?  We are.  You do speak to us.  You spoke to us right then, telling us to report to the Tent of Meeting.  And when we got there, we heard your voice again, from the pillar of cloud, and you said plenty.  All three of us heard you.  And then hhhh!  I’m covered with tzara’at.  Skin like scales.  Like salt.  Like death.  Me, not Aharon.  Why me?  Because I was doing the talking?

You know, God, you always did let Aharon off the hook.  Like when he made the golden calf.  You hold me to a higher standard.  Maybe it’s a compliment.  Maybe this scaly skin is actually a sign of your favor.  I just need to look at it the right way.

But I have to confess, my good attitude has been slipping, these past four days outside the camp.  I guess it’s easier to keep smiling when I have people to smile at.  Now that I’m alone, I—I’m starting to lose faith that you make everything work out for the best.

But I know it’s just a passing weakness.  I never really break down.  I can get through all seven days of tzara’at with my chin up.

*

I still can’t get used to this itching!  But this is the seventh day.  I just have to stick it out until sunset, and then it will be over.

I’ve got to remember to thank Moshe for begging God to heal me.  If it weren’t for him, I’d be stuck like this for the rest of my life.  Not just itching, but shamed and shunned.  Thanks to Moshe, I can come back into the camp tonight, and be myself again.

But it won’t be the same, will it?  Everyone will remember what you did to me, God.  When I walked out of the camp seven days ago, nobody would meet my eyes.  When I come back—I bet they won’t look at me the way they used to.

Could be worse.  At least I won’t have to wear a veil, like Moshe.  Only time I ever wore a veil was for my wedding.  I remember the moment when my husband lifted the veil and kissed me.

Now Moshe, he only takes off his veil to talk to God, or to tell the people what God said.  Nobody’s going to argue with a man when his face is glowing like the sun.

It’s hard to look at.  Most people take one glance at his face, then look off to the side until he’s done talking.  You can see everyone relax when he puts the veil back on.  It’s a kindness he does, covering his face so he won’t frighten anyone.

I suppose if he wanted to kiss his wife, he’d have to kiss her through the veil.  Not so easy.  And their eyes can’t meet, not really.  But if he took off his veil, she couldn’t bear to look at him at all.

I never thought of that before.  Since Moshe speaks face to face with you, God, that means he can’t speak face to face with anyone else.  Not even his wife.  Nobody ever looks him in the face.

I wonder if he feels like he’s being shunned.

I got seven days of shunning.  Moshe gets a lifetime sentence.  Poor man.  Maybe that’s why he’s so humble.

Maybe I was wrong to criticize him for being a bad husband.  His life is a lot harder than I realized.  I wonder if he ever looks back on the old days in Midian, where he was just a shepherd and a family man.  I wouldn’t blame him.

Actually, I can’t blame Lot’s wife for looking back at Sodom.  What good was it to escape, when her older daughters were dying in the fire?  Hey, maybe I shouldn’t even blame the children of Israel for looking back on our life in Egypt as if it were a good thing.  At least in Egypt there was always garlic.

To think I’ve been proud of not looking back!  How did I get to be such an old woman without ever turning my head around?

You know, even after my husband died, I didn’t let myself look back and long for him.  I thought I was so important, Miriam the Prophetess, I had to set an example.  I had to keep my chin up and my face toward the Promised Land every day, every moment.  I thought I was so righteous, I could tell everyone else how to behave, too.

Hah!  What a stiff-necked Jew I’ve been.

Blessed are you, my God, who blessed me with seven days to look back.

(by Melissa Carpenter)

Naso, Lekh-Lekha, & Vayeira: No Jealousy

May 21, 2021 at 11:02 am | Posted in Lekh Lekha, Naso, Vayeira | Leave a comment

Marriage as always been a strange institution.

The default marriage in the west today is an exclusive covenant between two people who care for one another and restrict their sexual activity to one another. This arrangement is feasible and rewarding for many couples, but not for everyone. So some people try polyamory or “open marriage”, some cheat on their covenant by secretly having sex with others, and some opt for divorce.

The default marriage in the Torah is a different kind of contract. A man with sufficient wealth can take multiple wives, concubines, and female slaves. Another option is to pay prostitutes.  A woman who is not a prostitute is expected to restrict her sexual activity to the man who owns her.  A girl or unmarried women is supposed to remain a virgin and live with her father until he either sells her as a slave,1 or accepts a bride-price for her.

Elkanah and His Wives, from musicformass.blog

In this unequal kind of marriage, one wife might feel jealous of her husband’s other wife because she has some advantage: more children, or more affection from their husband. 2  But a wife does not complain that her husband is unfaithful to her when he takes another woman.

A husband, however, considers it a serious breach of contract if one of his wives has sex with another man.  In the Torah, if a married woman is witnessed committing adultery, both she and her lover get the death penalty.3  A man expects exclusive possession of any woman he purchases, as a wife or as a slave.  If he merely suspects his wife has been unfaithful, but there are no witnesses to prove it, he can divorce her; a man can divorce a wife for any reason.4

What if she has been in an apparently compromising position, but there are no witnesses, and he does not want to divorce her?  The question arises both in this week’s Torah portion, Naso (“Lift it”) in the book of Numbers, and in the book I am writing on moral psychology in the book of Genesis.

Naso in the book of Numbers/Bemidbar

A spirit of kinah passes over him and he is kinei of his wife and she defiled herself, or a spirit of kinah passes over him and he is kinei of his wife and she did not defile herself.  Then the man shall bring his wife to the priest, and he shall bring an offering over her, one-tenth of an eifah of barley flour.  He shall not pour oil over it and he shall not place frankincense on it, because it is a grain-offering of kena-ot, a grain-offering of an acknowledging reminder of a bad deed.   (Numbers/Bemidbar 5:14-15)

kinah (קִנְאָה) = jealousy, envy; passion, fury, zeal.5  (Plural: kena-ot, קְנָאֺת.  In all cases kinah is a powerful feeling that may overwhelm reason.)

kinei (קִנֵּא) = he is jealous, envious, zealous.

Ceremony of the Suspected Adulteress, by Matthijs Pool, 1686-1727

The priest pronounces a curse on the woman, asking God to inflict a particular physical calamity on her if she did lie down with a man other than her husband.  (Biblical scholars do not agree on the exact nature of the calamity, which involves her belly and her crotch; it may be a miscarriage.)  The woman must say “Amen, amen!”  The priest writes down the curse, then rubs the lettering off into water mixed with dirt from the floor of the sanctuary and makes the woman drink it then and there.

After this impressive ordeal, the verdict is up to God.

When he has made her drink the water, it happens: if she defiled herself and she was unfaithful with unfaithfulness to her man, then the water will enter her, inflicting a curse for bitterness, and her belly will swell and her crotch will fall, and the woman will become am object of cursing among her people.  But if the woman has not defiled herself and she is pure, she is cleared and she will bear seed.  (Numbers 5:27-28)

Her husband no longer has any reason for jealousy, and becomes able to trust his wife again.  The rest of the community also accepts that she is innocent.

Vayeira in the book of Genesis/Bereishit

In the book of Genesis, Abraham puts his wife, Sarah, in a compromising position twice by telling a king that she is his sister, accepting the king’s bride-price, and cheerfully sending her off to the king’s harem.  Is he incapable of jealousy?

On the first occasion, in the Torah portion Lekh-Lekha, Abraham, Sarah, and the rest of his household travel to Egypt to escape a famine.  Abraham asks his wife to lie when they reach the border of Egypt.

“Hey, please, I know that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.  And if the Egyptians see you and say, ‘This is his wife’, then they will kill me and let you live.  Say, please, you are my sister, so that it will be good for me because of you, and I will remain alive on account of you.”   (Genesis 12:11-13)

Abraham’s extraordinary request assumes that Egyptians abhor adultery, but have no qualms about killing a man in order to marry his wife.  The pharaoh himself makes Sarah his concubine and pays Abraham a lavish bride-price.  Then God afflicts the pharaoh and his household with a disease.  The pharaoh scolds Abraham and has him and Sarah escorted out of Egypt, but they get to keep the bride-price.

Avimelekh Returns Sarah to Abraham, by Elias_van_Nijmegen (1667-1755)

So Abraham tries it again with King Avimelekh of Gerar in the Torah portion Vayeira.  This time God speaks to the king in a dream after he has paid the bride-price and welcomed Sarah into his house.  God threatens to kill Avimelekh, who protests his innocence due to ignorance.

And God said to him in the dream: “Also I knew that you did this with a blameless heart, and I, even I, restrained you from erring against me.  Therefore I did not let you touch her.  And now, restore the man’s wife.  Since he is a prophet, he will pray for your benefit and life.”  (Genesis 20:6-7)

The early commentary assumes that the king of Gerar also executes husbands in order to marry their wives, so Abraham’s deception is once again justified.   Furthermore, since God calls Abraham a prophet, both the Talmud and Bereishit Rabbah conclude that Abraham knows ahead of time that God will protect Sarah.6   Therefore he is not guilty of pimping his wife.

I disagree.  After traveling toward Egypt for weeks, does Abraham suddenly remember the bizarre ethics of Egyptians?   It is more likely that he gets a brilliant idea for acquiring a lot more wealth in livestock and slaves—if his scam comes off.  That would also explain why he does not return the bride-price after the pharaoh discovers his scam.

He destroys his wife’s honor by putting her in a position where she, too, is exposed as a liar, and where she stays in Pharaoh’s harem long enough for her chastity to be in question.  He is careless about her reputation and does not even consider her self-esteem.

Years later, Abraham uses the same scam to swindle Avimelekh of Gerar—apparently for no reason except that he can get away with it and make a profit.  No sense of honor stops him, nor does any consideration for either his wife or the afflicted king.

Abraham is an amusing trickster, and nobody is killed on his account.   He happily prays for healing for Avimelekh—once he has received the king’s gifts.   But he fails to meet his moral obligations either to his wife or to the kings of the countries where he is a guest.

Abraham does, in effect, pimp his wife.  Why does he feel no jealousy?  If marrying the two kings were Sarah’s idea, then he might be granting her the freedom he enjoys as a man.  But Abraham, not Sarah, is the one who initiates the scam both times.

If he knows ahead of time that God will prevent both kings from touching Sarah, then he is spared from jealousy over his property, i.e. his wife.

Or perhaps Abraham does not really care what happens to Sarah.  The Torah says Isaac loves his wife, Rebecca,7 and Jacob loves one of his wives, Rachel,8 but it does not say Abraham loves any of the three women he has children with.9

There is more than one way to avoid jealousy in a marriage.

  1. In Exodus 21:7-11, sexual duties are part of the job description of a daughter sold as a slave.
  2. For example, in Genesis 29:31-30:24, Leah envies Rachel because their mutual husband, Jacob, loves Rachel more. Rachel envies Leah because Leah regularly bears Jacob children. In 1 Samuel 1:1-8, Hannah is jealous of her husband Elkanah’s other wife, Peninah, because Peninah has children.2
  3. Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22. The Talmud later added so many extra requirements for conviction of adultery that the death penalty was no longer practiced. A man is free to have sexual intercourse with an unbetrothed virgin as long as he then pays her father a bride-price and marries her (Deuteronomy 22:28).
  4. Deuteronomy 24:1.
  5. Kinah for God is usually translated as “zeal”, and kinah of one human over another human is usually translated as “jealousy”. God’s kinah regarding humans is often translated as “fury”, though Isaiah and Zecharaiah refer to God’s kinah meaning God’s zeal to ensure a good future for the Israelites (Isaiah 9:6, 11:11, 37:32; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2).
  6. Talmud Makkot 9b, Bereishit Rabbah.
  7. When God tells him to obey Sarah and send away Hagar and her son Ishmael, he is only troubled about Ishmael (Genesis 21:9-12).
  8. Genesis 24:67.
  9. Genesis 29:18.
  10. Sarah (Genesis 21:2), Hagar (Genesis 16:15), and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2).
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